Friday In Bahrain: The Closest Weekend Yet?

Free Practice 1:

All was relatively quiet at the Bahrian International Circuit. With tire preservation at a premium, teams were reluctant to use up their tires too much. However, there was work to do, as the intense heat of the desert sun and the abrasive track surface require a lot of data gathering.

The first practice session saw the return of Heikki Kovalianen to Caterham. The team’s early season woes have prompted them to seek out the expert opinion from their former driver in order to gain a better understanding of their problems. Whether this will have any immediate effects on the car for this weekend, or if it will start to show once we get back to Europe remains to be seen, but whenever it happens, we rest assured that Caterham’s problems are worse than we all imagined.

Marussia Reserve driver, Rodolfo Gonzalez, made his debut with the team on a Friday having had previous experience with Caterham. He performed well against Max Chilton in the first practice sessions which could bode well for his future.

The First Practice session is all about getting your bearings. The session starts off without much action. The only movement one sees in the first half hour is the drivers performing installation laps to make sure that the electronics have survived the trip to the new circuit. Once this is all complete, however, the drivers get down to business.

Normal practice in the first practice session is to use only one set of prime tires (the hard tires fill that role this weekend), so the drivers must preserve the tires right off the bat. In order to gain relevant information to help in the race, they need to run on tires that aren’t destroyed entirely. This makes the weekend a balancing act on steroids.

With this in mind, the first session was headed by the two Ferrari drivers, with Felipe Massa leading that pair. Don’t read too much into this, however, because a green track covered in dust and sand doesn’t necessarily make for a reliable form guide for the rest of the weekend. However, this may also mean that Ferrari is just so good that the track conditions don’t seem to affect them. We will have our questions answered come the checkered flag on Sunday.

Not far behind them, however, were the Red Bulls and Mercedes who, by all accounts, look to be Ferrari’s closest competitors at this initial stage of the weekend. Jenson Button and the Force Indias made up the lower end of the top-10 and will desperately hope to stay there.

FP1 Times

Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m34.487s 11
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.564s + 0.077s 19
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.621s + 0.134s 22
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m34.790s + 0.303s 20
5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m34.949s + 0.462s 17
6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.069s + 0.582s 22
7. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m35.101s + 0.614s 19
8. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m35.119s + 0.632s 19
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m35.345s + 0.858s 17
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m35.611s + 1.124s 14
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.640s + 1.153s 23
12. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m35.783s + 1.296s 16
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m35.792s + 1.305s 16
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.014s + 1.527s 19
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.485s + 1.998s 20
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m36.498s + 2.011s 17
17. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.755s + 2.268s 20
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.214s + 2.727s 21
19. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m37.850s + 3.363s 20
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m38.401s + 3.914s 20
21. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.445s + 4.958s 12
22. Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.215s + 5.728s 7

Free Practice 2:

Just as in the first practice session, everyone had to balance performance and tire conservation. Pirelli’s decision to change the option tire from the soft to the medium looks to have been a very wise choice indeed.

The second practice sessions pan out as follows: get a fast time on the prime tires, come into the pits, get a fast time on the option tires and come back into the pits. Finally, the last 45 minutes or so of the session is dedicated to long runs on higher levels of fuel. It is at this point that we really get to see the competitive order of the weekend in terms of race pace.

Before I get into that, however, lets take a look at the one lap pace of the leading drivers.

After a worryingly slow start to the session, one in which they sat around over two seconds off the pace, Lotus came on extremely strong once they put the option tires on. Romain Grosjean rocketed up to 5th place on his first flying lap on the medium tires while Kimi Raikkonen went straight to the top of the timesheets in his Lotus. The Finn would eventually finish the 90 minute session in that position with his teammate ending up 7th. This bodes well for the Enstone-based team who, arguably, should have won this very race last year were it for some rustiness on Raikkonen’s part.

As ever with Formula One these days, Lotus did not run away with this session. In fact, the leading times could hardly have been any closer, with the top seven drivers covered by less than half of a second. Ferrari, Red Bull Mercedes and even Force India were fighting it out for top honors in this session. Paul di Resta even had the 5th fastest time of the session, underlining the pace of the Force India from the first three races.

Mclaren were not as strong in this second practice session as they may haev suggested in the first. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were both out of the top -10 and over a second off the overall one lap pace of the Lotus.

This brings us to the long run pace. This is the most important information of the whole weekend, but also the hardest to decipher. Like pre-season testing, there is an unknown over how much fuel each team is running on their stints and this clouds that validity of some of the times we may see. However, from the looks of things, Lotus, Red Bull, and Ferrari are at the top of the heap with Mercedes, Force India and Mclaren who seem to improve with more fuel in the car.

It will be an absolutely fascinating battle on both Saturday and Sunday. If we have a new winner from a new team this weekend, then there will still be questions over who really has the fastest car this season. If either Kimi, Sebastian or Fernando wins, then we may have witnessed the start of a trend. Who knows, though? Formula One is never one to make things easy.

FP2 Times

Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m34.154s 31
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m34.184s + 0.030s 26
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m34.282s + 0.128s 29
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.310s + 0.156s 28
5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m34.543s + 0.389s 35
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m34.552s + 0.398s 34
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m34.631s + 0.477s 33
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.666s + 0.512s 37
9. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m34.932s + 0.778s 33
10. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.976s + 0.822s 29
11. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.356s + 1.202s 32
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.506s + 1.352s 36
13. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.5$9s + 1.435s 36
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.761s + 1.607s 33
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.133s + 1.979s 36
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m36.279s + 2.125s 33
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m36.579s + 2.425s 28
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.616s + 2.462s 34
19. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m37.061s + 2.907s 32
20. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m37.313s + 3.159s 33
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m37.363s + 3.209s 29
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m37.970s + 3.816s 34

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